University of Leicester
2017MCCANNMRPHD.pdf (5.22 MB)

Networks, Relationships, and Social Change: Reimagining the museum as a key actor in a system of social progress and responsibility. A case study of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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posted on 2018-01-31, 15:32 authored by Mercy Ruth McCann
Both the museum field and society more broadly are growing increasingly aware of the power museums have to engage with contemporary issues and to affect social change. Museums, through the histories, objects, perspectives, and representations they offer, are becoming active contributors to broader negotiations of social rights and identities. As awareness grows, however, and the engagement that accompanies it develops, how does this potentially change what a museum can be, its responsibilities, and the relationships it forms with the individuals and groups in the network around it? Using the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC as a case study, this thesis will examine one museum’s participation in socially engaged practice in order to build a greater understanding of the resulting connections and relationships. The thesis will focus on the museum’s leadership programmes in the Levine Institute for Holocaust Education in order to understand how the museum contributes to and builds a broader network of organisations working towards positive social change. The analysis will draw on the concept of ‘activist practice’ (Sandell & Dodd, 2010), organisational studies, and social capital theory to explore the museum’s role in creating, developing, and evolving the network in which it operates, how the museum’s position in that network changes, and finally, how the museum’s ability to build connections between like and unalike actors makes it a unique and crucial contributor to social change initiatives. Ultimately this thesis reimagines the museum as a key actor in a wider network of social progress, facilitating the relationships that allow for positive social change. In doing so, the thesis contributes to an understanding of socially engaged practice in the broader museum field.



Sandell, Richard; Gibson, Lisanne

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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